Authors: Lindsay McKenna
As they filed out of the elevator of the Miron Corporation building in a tight knot, Cait cast a final glance over at Louie. He winked and offered her an encouraging smile. She clutched her briefcase and squared her shoulders as they turned toward the boardroom located at the end of the hall.
Señor di Grazzi introduced Cait under the “new business” portion of the board meeting. “Señora Cait Monahan, Brentworth project superintendent, will now give us our first look at the delay which has been caused at the site. We feel fortunate to have such a lovely young woman in our billion-dollar joint venture with Brentworth. Please, Senora Monahan, come take the podium.”
Irritation grated against her fear. His introduction sounded very much like a setup. Since when would any board chairman announce such an important topic with such obvious flattery? It was not going to be easy to make them see her as the project superintendent. Her mouth was dry, and she took a drink of water before beginning her report. She saw Campos sitting relaxed, his gaze interested, his hands clasped in front of him expectantly. He doesn’t know, Cait realized, and felt a snaking coil of fear in the pit of her stomach.
She missed none of the facial expressions or the change in subtle body language as she began explaining why the project was behind schedule. She built her case carefully. When Louie Henning got up and distributed copies of several fact sheets, she began to see faces tighten, lips taking on a firmer line.
The silence in the room became deafening. Campos looked two shades lighter, his hands now clenched together in a knot in front of his body.—
At the mention of Cirre’s name, Campos’s eyes swung to Cait. She met them fearlessly. She quickly told how Dominic and Louie had weighed, measured and counted the supplies on the site and calculated that the amount lost was worth nearly six hundred thousand dollars. A collective intake of breath broke the quiet, and Cait boldly continued. Finally Louie produced a signed statement from Cirre admitting his guilt in juggling the books.
Di Grazzi was frowning heavily, his gray eyebrows thick with displeasure.
“Gentlemen,” Cait continued, “a scheme of this magnitude does not occur overnight and not without significant help from the managerial and supervisory levels. We have evidence which implicates a very top Miron official at the site, and I am asking you today to relieve him of his duties and allow me to choose a replacement.”
Di Grazzi held up the paper. “You’re talking about Señor Cirre, of course?”
Campos’s brown eyes were wide with fright as he saw Cait’s gaze settle on him. “ Di Grazzi, I respectfully submit that not only Señor Cirre is involved, but of equal guilt is Señor Campos.”
The room seemed to explode with silent disbelief. Di Grazzi looked absolutely stunned. Campos snarled an obscenity under his breath, then grabbed his copy, his face suffusing into a plum color. “No! This is lies! All lies!” he yelled, jumping to his feet. He shook his fist at Cait. “This is only a game to make Miron the culprit for Brentworth’s failings! It’s all lies, and I won’t stand here and take this sort of slander—”
“Señora Monahan?” Di Grazzi’s voice was soft.
“What proof”—” he stressed the word slightly “—”do you have that Senores Cirre and Campos collaborated on this supposed scheme?”
She pointed at the maroon book that Louie hoisted from her briefcase. “Señor Henning will turn over the second set of books, which was kept by Señor Cirre at his apartment. If you note, Señor Campos’s initials confirm my allegations. I don’t know your country’s laws, so I will leave any legal actions in your corporation’s capable hands.”
“Señor Campos, what is your response to this allegation?”
In spite of his initial reaction in the boardroom, there was a long pause before he responded. “I can assure you, Señor di Grazzi, that the facts are not as they appear. This book is undoubtedly a forgery.” Perspiration gleamed along his forehead, and he paused to regain his shattered composure. “Gentlemen, the seriousness of these allegations comes as a complete surprise to me. I believe it is in my best interests to refrain from further discussion until my attorney can be present. In view of my long association with the company and my wish not to hinder its activities, I respectfully submit my resignation.”
“I’ll accept your resignation,” Di Grazzi said with finality, “and I expect it to be dated yesterday. I suggest you retire from this meeting.” Campos rose slowly, glared briefly at Cait and left the room. “Señora Monahan, whom would you suggest as a replacement for Senores Cirre and Campos until we can clear up this matter?”
“I would like Señor Henning to replace Señor Cirre as storekeeper. His thirty years in procurement and scheduling will help us plug other leaks and begin getting needed equipment on the site. With the board’s permission, I recommend the installation of Señor Dominic Tobbar in place of Señor Campos. He was the only man on that site to buck the mounting problems by preparing written reports detailing the losses and back orders. I’ve found him honest and trustworthy. He has the managerial background for such a position, and until a full investigation is completed, he is the only one we know who is not part of this scandal.”
Di Grazzi smiled coldly. “Very well, we will take your recommendation under advisement. If you would be so kind as to wait outside, I must consult our officers.”
Cait nodded. “Of course.”
The entire presentation and its outcome had taken only two hours. By eleven-thirty, Cait was anxiously awaiting Dominic’s arrival in the lobby. Di Grazzi had given her permission to install Henning and Tobbar, and she was elated. Louie ambled up to her, a gleam in his eyes.
“Well, Rose, you did it. Congratulations. How are you feelin’?”
“I think my knees are going to buckle.”
“You’ll be fine, darlin’. We’ll be outa here in a minute. I guess Chuck is going to have lunch with Di Grazzi, and we can go back to the site when we want.”
“Good! Give me the dirt of Patagonia instead of all this damn political intrigue.” She spotted Dominic as he threaded his way through the gathering crowd. As much as she wanted to simply run to his arms and be smothered by his protective, fierce embrace, she could not do it. Not in front of all the Miron personnel who milled around them in noontime traffic. Dominic’s gaze was worried. He stopped, catching her hand briefly in his own and then letting it go.
“You look pale,” he commented, frowning.
She wearily brushed aside a tendril of hair from her cheek. “We won. But at what a price! I never want to have to do it again.”
“We’ve won round one, son,” Louie corrected. “The next thing will be to take depositions, and there’ll be a grand jury investigation.”
Dominic glanced around, his mouth set in a grim line, his gaze worriedly assessing Cait’s condition. “Let’s get out of here. You need some place to relax. Anyone hungry?”
“Starved!” Cait admitted, realizing she was famished.
“What do you have in mind?” Louie asked.
“How about a good Argentine steak in celebration, and you can fill me in on the details of the battle?”
“Sounds good. Lead the way. Rose, you coming or are you rooted to the spot?”
Cait laughed nervously, feeling suddenly shaky. Dominic seemed to sense her uneasiness and looped his arm through hers, pulling her against his body. She looked up at him, nodding her thanks.
After the main course she finally broke the news about his new position. Lifting her crystal goblet toward him, she murmured, “Congratulations, Dominic. You are now the site superintendent for Miron.”
Louie lifted his glass, watching the engineer’s stunned expression. “Drink up, son. You’ve earned it.”
Dominic touched their glasses. “You really are a masochist, Señora Monahan.”
Cait grinned, sipping the wine with pleasure. “How’s that, Señor Tobbar?”
“Do you think you can stand working elbow to elbow with me every day?”
“I think I’ll force myself, for the betterment of the organization,” she answered drily.
Dominic winked over at Louie. “We have another Joan of Arc on our hands.”
Later, as the drone of the Beechcraft lulled Cait to the brink of sleep, Dominic asked, “Why didn’t you tell me you were considering me for site superintendent?”
She turned, watching Louie snoozing peacefully in the backseat. Her gaze drifted to the engineer. “I couldn’t be sure Di Grazzi would let me have my way. And”—” she managed a sour grin “—”I couldn’t be sure you would take it, either.”
He pressed his lips together. “It’s going to be tough, juggling office work against the bridge portion, but I’ll do it. You realize I’ve turned down this type of position on other job sites?”
Her eyebrows raised slightly. It was true. Twelve years in the field easily qualified him for higher managerial posts. But many engineers hated being a desk jockey and chose a field position and less pay just to remain outdoors. “No, I hadn’t realized,” she answered tentatively. “Then why—”
“We work well together. Despite our obvious differences.”
Cait laughed. “We aren’t so different, Dominic. As a matter of fact, we’re very much alike in many ways.”
“Such as?” A droll smile touched his mouth.
“We’re both opinionated—”
“Yes, well, we’re hard-working—”
“Only because we don’t know any better.”
“Okay, I’m teasing you. Yes, we are similar. One thing, though. Let’s make a rule not to work ourselves into the ground. I don’t know about you, but after all the hell I’ve gone through these past six months, I need some down time.”
Cait agreed. “I promised to take you back into BA,” Dominic continued, “and I intend to do it. Plus, I want you to see the real Argentina.” He motioned northward. “The Camp, the tropical paradise of Gran Chaco, the falls…There’s so much you must experience about this country.”
Her heart leaped in response to the excitement that edged his voice. She couldn’t quite believe her ears.
He wanted to spend more time with her. At first, the idea was pleasant, and then old, familiar fears began to crumble her expectations.
“Next week, come hell or high water, I’m taking Saturday and Sunday off.” He reached over, his strong fingers covering her hand. “And I want you to come with me, Cait.”
Her heart gave a little leap. “Are you sure you aren’t going to get sick of me? You have to work twelve to sixteen hours a day from now on.”
He brought her hand to his lips, kissing it firmly. “I told you before,
I can’t get enough of you. The crisis is past. I want—demand—the time to get to know you better. All I’ve got are bits and pieces and I’m not satisfied.”
Her fears and uncertainty were dissolved by the vibrancy in his husky voice. She loved him, completely and unequivocally. Perhaps he felt something similar for her.
Shortly after returning, Cait felt as if someone had given the site a new infusion of energy. She knew word traveled fast, and the men seemed to have a more positive attitude. She attributed it in part to the fact that supplies were being trucked in around the clock to make up for the lack created by Campos and Cirre.
Early Friday morning she found she had to fly into BA to give a deposition for a grand-jury indictment against Campos.
“Filipo,” she called. Her secretary bobbed into the room expectantly.
“Try and get hold of Señor Tobbar. Señor Henning and I have to fly into BA this morning. Tell Señor Tobbar he’s got the reins until I return. He can reach me at my apartment if he needs me for anything.”
They had a long wait in BA before the hearing began. By three o’clock in the afternoon, it was clear they wouldn’t be able to return to the site that night. Cait released the plane and pilot to fly some needed supplies back to Rio Colorado. Sensing her frustration, Louie gave her an understanding look as they sat together in the room, waiting to be called into the hearing. “Well, Rose, look at it this way. You can spend a weekend in BA and get some shopping done. I hear they have nice leather articles up on Calle Florida.”
She gave a soft snort of disdain. “Just what I need, a pair of leather shoes or another leather purse.”
“Do I detect some unhappiness, darlin’?”
Cait squirmed and crossed her long, coltish legs again. “No.”
Louie grinned. “What you need is a good dose of Dominic.”
Her eyes widened as she stared at him. “Dominic?”
“Is there an echo in here?”
She laughed. “I can’t fool you, can I?”
“Nope. Never could. Mind you, though, not that you tried. He’s a nice fellow, Rose. I’m glad to see you gettin’ along with him.”
“Yes,” she answered hesitantly, feeling her pulse leap at the thought.
Her head was throbbing incessantly when the hearing was finally adjourned. It was five-thirty, and she wasn’t even hungry when Louie dropped her off at the apartment and he headed back to the Claridge House Hotel. She wandered dully through the empty rooms and absently ran a bath. Later, as she lay in the fragrant water, she became acutely aware of how lonely she had become since leaving the site. Was she missing Dominic’s care and attention?
It had been a hectic week at the site, and she’d only had glimpses of him from time to time. Once at a midnight meeting with several other supervisors, she had caught his wistful look in her direction. Groaning, Cait wanted to forget it all, and after patting dry, she slipped into her black silk gown and crawled into bed. Swiftly the tiredness of the week, coupled with the grueling two-hour hearing, spiraled her into a deep sleep.
Her dreams were peaceful at first, but her heart began to pound strongly when she heard the gas platform creak and lurch beneath the impact of the load of steel I-beams as it slashed into the newly erected drilling tower. This time Cait knew she would view the entire episode just as she had that morning off the coast of Indonesia There would be no retreat, no turning back.
Screams drifted from between the smashed girders. The platform shivered, and Cait was jerked backward by the platform boss as men rushed with pry-away bars, ropes and cables. She began to moan as she saw the bodies below it; so many lifeless puppets strewn like smashed straws in the wind. At first she couldn’t make out which one was Dave….
She became aware of the punctuating beat of the diesel engine, me powerful hum of the hoist cable as the boom swung back and forth to remove the debris to get to the last man…her husband. She was crying hysterically, hearing the beating sound becoming louder and louder, until finally it broke the spell of the nightmare…but only after she saw Dave being gently lifted from the twisted metal grave.
She moved restlessly, pulled awake by the continued beating sound. She moved off the bed, her eyes wide with the wildness of the nightmare still alive within her. It was the door…someone was knocking heavily at her apartment door. Her hair fell in disarray about her shoulders as she stumbled through the darkness and shakily opened it.
“Cait! My God, are you all right?”
She felt Dominic’s arms envelop her, and she collapsed against him, sobbing without restraint. He lifted her off her feet and nudged the door closed. Dominic carried her into the bedroom, holding her tightly against his body. Grimly he sat her down on the edge of the bed, soothingly reassuring her and stroking her hair in a gentle motion. He rocked her back and forth like a child, whispering small words of encouragement. “Shh,
it’s all over…It’s all right. You’re safe…shh…I’m here. That’s good, try and take a deep breath.”
Cait clung to Dominic, her fingers digging into his chest as she tried to wrestle with the grief she had controlled for too long. His healing words only released that anguish and inner hurt, and she lay helpless against him, weeping until she had no more tears to cry. Her body shook and she felt his arms tighten when she whimpered. Her eyes were wide and frightened as she continued to see her husband being brought to the main deck of the platform. Another cry broke from her, this one mirroring the utter helplessness and finality of the accident.
Dominic frowned, leaned over, watching her closely. His fingers brushed her temple and cheek in a protective gesture. “What do you see?” he demanded softly. “Tell me,
“I—can’t. Oh, God…No!” She buried her head, starting to sob all over again.
Firmly he pulled her hand away from her face and forced her to look up at him. “Cait, you’ve got to tell me what you see. You can’t keep letting this nightmare hold you. Don’t you understand? Talk about it?”
Her lips parted and trembled, and she stared past him at the darkened wall of the bedroom. Old fears raced through and left her speechless.
“Cait!” he breathed huskily. “I said tell me about it…”
She swallowed convulsively, her body numb with shock. “I—see—”
“Describe it to me.”
“They—oh, God, it’s Dave. Alive. He isn’t alive.” She choked and tried to stifle a moan.
“He’s not alive?”
“No. Oh, how I wanted to see him alive.”
“Do you see him?”
She shuddered, her eyes bright with anguish.
Tears continued to trickle down her pale, drawn features as she stared unseeingly at the wall. “Half his face is torn away. He’s dead!” she whispered, her voice flat.
“Oh, my God, Cait,” he breathed, pulling her against him. “I’m so damn sorry.”
She felt his hand massaging her neck, shoulders and back as she lay against him, concentrating on the steady, reassuring beat of his strong heart. Slowly her arms slid around his body, and she pressed her cheek against his chest in silent thanks. She clung wordlessly to him. She did not feel embarrassed at having shared the worst of the nightmare with him. He had understood. Her eyes darkened with confusion, and she cleared her throat. “Am I going crazy, Dominic?”
He pressed a kiss to her forehead. “No,
A nightmare is like a brief walk into reality during sleep. You couldn’t accept something that horrible all at once. It takes time to absorb the shock, to get through it all.”
“Every time I dreamed, I’d see more and more of the accident.”
He sighed heavily and managed a small smile. “I wore my wounds on the outside, wreaking hell on other people. You”—” he slid his fingers through her silken hair “—”wore your wounds inside and tried to work them out through dreams.”
“Will it ever end? What do I have to do to release it?”
He leaned over, a gentle smile on his mouth as he placed his finger beneath her chin and lifted her face to meet his amber gaze. “It ended tonight,
Never again will you have to relive it. Now it’s part of the past, and it will stay there. The pain won’t be so bad, either, and eventually you’ll remember your husband without hurting. Only the good feelings and good memories will remain.”
She managed to sit up, aware of his hand against her cheek. “How do you know all this?” she asked, her voice tremulous. She searched his eyes for the answer and saw only a tender flame within his lambent gaze.
“When Alicia divorced me, I thought it was the end of the world. It was a marriage arranged by my parents, and I was only nineteen, and so damn foolish.” He shrugged. “I eventually fell in love with her so totally that when her infidelity was discovered both families agreed that a divorce was the only solution.”
“But you said you loved her. Couldn’t you forgive her, Dominic?”
“I—yes, I would have, but she wanted to marry one of her lovers.” He hesitated, the silence emphasizing his pain. “I couldn’t keep her if she was unhappy.”
Cait reached up, caressing his face. “It must have hurt terribly.”
“No worse than watching Dave get killed,
Your pain came unexpectedly, and it’s taken this long to work out the shock. Mine was a slow, painful death. I distrusted all women because of Alicia. I blamed all of them for what she had become.” He leaned down, his mouth curving across her lips in a tender, searching kiss.
Cait moaned, her arms instinctively slipping around his neck. She molded her body against him, feeling the hard strength of his muscles. She felt cleansed and whole, and a new flame stirred to life deep within her body, a shiver of passion ignited by the deepening exploratory kiss he was pressing upon her willing lips.
His strong fingers moved like liquid fire down her back, trapping her possessively against him. Slowly they parted, and Cait was aware of her heart clamoring against her breast like a caged bird straining for its freedom. She stared up at him in wonder, meeting his golden eyes. Her lips parted and she hesitantly reached out, her fingers brushing his generous mouth. He claimed her hand, squeezing it gently.
“I want to love you,” he whispered huskily.
She closed her eyes, swaying against him in answer, a slender willow bending against a sturdy oak. Now Cait recognized the hungry light in his eyes. It was desire for her, and her alone. Somewhere in her spinning thoughts, she knew Dominic had waited until she had rid herself of the last vestiges of the past before bringing their physical bodies together in an act that could only mean a renewal of love. Something they both desperately recognized, wanted and were patient enough to wait and receive.
He gently laid her back on the bed, running his hand over her naked shoulder, down the side of her breast, to her flat stomach and the curve of her hip and long thigh. “God, you’re beautiful,” he breathed, leaning over, his mouth claiming her lips.
He tasted clean. Her tears were shared between them, tears spent in grief and claimed in love. Gladly she reached upward, pulling him down upon her yearning body. His fingers trailed down her back, making her shiver uncontrollably, moving now to cup her hips to pull her tightly to him. His stroking hand moved down her slender neck, pushing the strap of the gown off her shoulder. Cait clung to his back in anticipation of his purposeful kisses, which began at the base of her throat.
Her skin grew hot and tight around each breast as his mouth sought out the valley between them. A small cry of pleasure broke hardened peak and she moaned, arching her body demandingly against him, wanting…needing fulfillment more than she had ever thought possible.
She had never seen him naked, but now, in the weak moonlight that filtered through the window, she drew in a breath of utter delight. It seemed like agonizing hours before he had shed his clothes and returned to the bed, scooping her up in his arms and holding her tightly to him. Nuzzling him, Cait ran her fingers across the silken hair on his broad, well-muscled chest, down the steel length of his torso and lean waist. She felt him tense, a low groan coming from his throat, vibrating through her sensitive body. He could no longer remain quiescent and Cait felt herself respond to the fiery heat she had kindled within him.
He pulled a condom from the nightstand and quickly rolled it on.
This time, as it was meant to be, Cait touched and stroked his body, as if it were a finely tuned instrument. But the fire flowing achingly through her lower body had a life of its own, and she whimpered, begging him to complete the union, to make them one, as she had always desired.
“Yes,” she whispered. “Oh, please, Dominic…yes…” His knee pressed between her straining thighs, parting them.
“God,” he whispered huskily, as his weight settled on top of her damp body, “so beautiful, so…”
She felt him hesitate, and she arched upward against him, a moan of momentary burning sensation surfacing and then the utter pleasure that quickly replaced it. She moaned, the sound caught in her throat. His head rested against her neck and jaw, and she felt him unleash his quivering body to protect her.
“Wait,” he whispered hoarsely.
“No…no!” The pressure built within her. She’d had no sex since the loss of Dave. Twisting her hips, feeling her heat and juices saturate him, easing the tension, she met him, their hips fusing together.
“God, I love you,” he groaned softly, and pulled her tightly against him as he slowly, deliriously urged her into higher and higher circles of heady, mindless pleasure.
She felt him thrust inward savagely, demandingly, just as she had known he would. A rippling cry of satisfaction clawed up her throat as she felt the volcanic explosion racing up her spine like a jolting electric shock, numbing her conscious mind into a cloud of exquisite joy. Tears trailed down her cheeks and a tender smile touched her bruised, parted lips as she felt Dominic tense. The growl of release from deep within his throat made her flesh tingle. Simultaneously, she felt her womb contact, felt the unrelieved pressure burst deep inside her. A hot flow of honey radiated down through her and she cried out, her back arching, her fingers digging deeply into his thick, tense shoulders. The pleasure moved outward like blistering heat, surging through her, meeting and melding with his own release.
Slowly, like the silence of a coming dawn, Cait became aware of familiar sounds around them. She rested her fingers on the soft mat of black hair across his chest, feeling the heavy thud of his heart against his ribs. Smiling blissfully, she weakly pressed against him and felt his arms tighten into an embrace. His rough, calloused hand moved down her arm, waist and hip in an unspoken gesture, and she closed her eyes. Sleep claimed her, pulling her down into a cottony world of cradled joy.